Picture a tranquil, tropical oasis with exotic foliage and dreamy backwaters. This idyllic locale is Kerala, situated in southwestern India – not what you would expect from a country known for its riot of sounds, sights and crowds. Kerala is laid back and serene. It’s especially alluring at Coconut Lagoon Heritage Resort and Ayurvedic Spa, a CGH Earth Hotel set in a sheltered cove in Kumarakom bordering Lake Vembanad – Kerala’s largest backwater lake. You can only get to this jewel of a retreat by boat, which adds to its charm.
I stepped off the resort’s jetty onto a bucolic wonderland of fragrant flowers, a butterfly garden, exotic plants, a sacred forest, coco palms, canals, ponds, small native vechoor cows, egrets and herons chirping atop tree branches, some strolling the lush green grass while cormorants perch close-by amid hyacinths floating on the lake. A flutist clad in a traditional lungi greets me with the sweet sound of melodious ragas as I sip a coconut drink. Welcome to backwater paradise.
Recently reopened and restored after the flood damage last summer, Coconut Lagoon offers a delicious cocktail of natural beauty, Kerala culture, Ayuveda treatments for which the destination is renowned and plenty of scenic spots to kick back and take in the splendor.
Accommodations are in handsome 150-year-old traditional tharavad houses, native wood structures from other parts of the region set to be torn down and replaced with modern buildings. These striking teak and rosewood gems were taken apart, transported here piece by piece, lovingly restored and reassembled. The resort looks like an authentic village from an ancient century. My 2-storey heritage mansion contained a banana tree in the open-air shower, hammock tied in front and veranda with comfy chairs for endless gazing at kettuvallams, boats with thatched roof covers over wooden hulls, as they glide by.
Life here in Kerala revolves around the backwater. The tea lady arrives by canoe from her nearby village daily at 3pm dispensing chai and sweets. The resort has its own kettuvallam for guests to cruise through the gentle backwater canals passing the palm fringed landscape, houses in vibrant hues of lilac, pink, blue, orange, yellow and green with their houseboats outside.
Gliding along at an unhurried pace I saw women in burgundy saris washing clothing, some sitting on the banks reading a newspaper, a young man spear fishing, fishermen in canoes, men painting a houseboat, a woman in a royal blue sari cleaning fish on a rock while multicolored birds from the nearby bird sanctuary hovered above.
The nightly pre dinner entertainment – an OttanThullal Performance – provides another immersion into Kerala’s rich culture. This ancient, fascinating story telling art with spoken word, dance, song and humor is a spectacle to behold. It involves elaborate costumes, extravagant headwear, intricate dance, exaggerated facial expressions, uncanny eye movements and vivid face makeup. Performers undergo years of training that includes hours of eye exercises. Maruthorvattam Kannan, a true OttanThullal Master, dazzled with his spellbinding dance – one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen.
After the performance I dined at the main open-air restaurant, Ettukettu where local musicians play tabla, harmonium and flute as guests savor flavorful Kerala cuisine. In addition to an a la carte menu, an enormous buffet offers an array of delectable vegetarian options, seafood, lamb, beef and chicken dishes including excellent biryani, coconut rice, idiyappam, sweet and savory delicacies and more. Also superb, Aymanam, the lakeside seafood eatery features local delights such as tiger prawns baked in a clay pot, melt in your mouth lake fish karimeem marinated, wrapped in a banana leaf, grilled to perfection plus juicy lobster. Everything is delicious.
In addition to backwater cruises, activities abound such as bird watching tours, cooking lessons using Kerala spices, learning to play a musical instrument, swimming in the pool or meandering the picturesque grounds and soaking up glorious nature.
Many come here for the Ayurveda Wellness Center, regarded as one of the best. Kerala is the birthplace of Ayurveda, an ancient Indian healing tradition that utilizes treatments with herb infused oils, lifestyles practices and healthy foods to create harmony between the body, mind and spirit. Physical and emotional ailments are considered to be the result of an imbalance that needs to be restored. A consultation with an Ayurvedic Doctor is followed by a session with a treatment tailored specifically to you.
I was intrigued because the Healing Center at Coconut Lagoon integrates therapies from Kalari, derived from Kerala’s own martial art, along with techniques from Ayurveda. A four handed oil massage with synchronized strokes across my entire body put me into a deep state of relaxation. My whole body let go. No wonder regulars come back time and again.
My last afternoon at the resort, I took a cruise. Nearing sunset, an explosion of gold, pink and magenta, cast a reddish glow on the lake and gilded the green fronds. The water sparkled like rubies in between the lily pads. Rounding each bend I felt a sense of timelessness, like I was journeying to another world – living in a dream.
How to Get There: You can fly directly to Kochi from New York by connecting in Doha on Qatar Airways. With the carrier’s new swanky QSuites in business class offering the utmost privacy with fully enclosed suites, some with double beds, superb food and service, it’s the most comfortable way to go.